With BEA and Cognos gone, the question shifts from who’s going to get bought next to which sector if ripe for consolidation? The answer is enterprise content management. Maybe.
You could argue, of course, that content management has already undergone considerable consolidation with the acquisition of Documentum by EMC a few years ago and the takeover of Hummingbird by Open Text in 2007. And yet there are still a number of pure-play enterprise content management (ECM) firms out there, including Interwoven, Saperion and (at least in some respects) Xerox. This is to say nothing of the many smaller players who specialize in either Web content management systems (CMSes) or companies with portal products to compete with the likes of Microsoft’s Sharepoint. Throw in the open source options, and the ECM space is starting to look a lot like the middleware or business intelligence sectors did until recently.
As IT managers try to align their technology investments with business strategy they may begin to adopt the kind of thinking that favours ECM integrated with other elements of their software stack. If you see content as something closely related to security and/or storage, you’re probably moving to an EMC. If you see it as something that’s associated with projects, you’ve probably already installed Sharepoint. If your notion of content extends not only to what’s in a database to what is printed, then Xerox could get the business instead. There may be market enough to support these different user profiles, but probably not for long.
Although users can wrap their heads more easily around content issues than, say, middleware, many of the case studies I’ve written involved stakeholders who were reluctant to do anything about ECM until they had no other choice. This may be because content management is more idiosyncratic than a lot of other technology strategies. In the old days, it came down to a choice of how you organized folders on a shared drive. Now it’s how you route and classify all kinds of information, and anyone who has tried to lead a meeting on naming conventions and content taxonomies (I am one such person) can tell you it’s a bloody nightmare.
As important as it is, most users would prefer ECM to be an add-on, something that we could pick up intuitively so that we could focus more on the content itself than the management of it. It’s interesting, in fact, that so few vendors appear to have invested in the kind of artificial intelligence that could make ECM more attuned to a particular user’s requirements. This despite the fact that many content management-related behaviours are deeply entrenched and could be easily studied and grouped into patterns.
This is what makes me hesitant to predict an all-out ECM consolidation wave. As much as it would make sense for an HP, a Symantec, a CA or even a Dell to make a significant ECM acquisition this year, there is still some room for innovation that would demand a premium from the marketplace. This includes the relationship between ECM and enterprise search products, for instance, or the ECM products that will be needed to integrate third-party content from Web 2.0 and social networking sites with corporate repositories. If we all agree that content is still king, then perhaps there’s still the chance that the ECM kingdom will stay spread out a little while yet.